Independent Thinking Blog

Diversity @ Work: Yes, we still need to talk.

A friend and I were talking about the first-ever Nigerian bobsled team competing at the Winter Olympics. (Plus the 2018 Jamaican bobsled team that named its sled Cool Bolt. But I digress.)

That conversation led me to wonder about the other athletes from African nations, which sent me down an enlightening rabbit hole. Since there was an athlete from Togo, I Google’d “Togo” and “Winter Olympics.” Google asked me if I meant Tonga instead. (No, I did not.) Then I found this CNBC article, and I thought the title “Winter Olympics hopefuls from Africa” meant that it was going to profile all the athletes. But, alas, it only focused on three countries (leaving out Kenya, Madagascar, South Africa, Morocco, and Togo). Worse, it referred to “the clandestine East African nation of Eritrea.” The only thing clandestine about Eritrea is that the author perhaps didn’t know it existed.

I know why Google asked me if I was looking for the Tongan flagbearer. So the search engine gets a mini-pass on this one. But CNBC does not. Could the company (a) not have found someone with a passing familiarity with the African continent; and (b) not have at least one editor who spotted the “clandestine” reference?

Diversity isn’t a box — or a rainbow coalition.


Workplace diversity can’t just be a box to check off on your corporate scorecard. It’s not enough to “look like” America or assemble a rainbow coalition in your office. You could check off every box, but it’s still not enough if everyone you hire comes from an Ivy League school or is a political liberal (or political conservative) or grew up in the same town or region. Unless that’s your audience — and your only audience in perpetuity — your business will likely suffer.

Yes, I’ve talked about all of this before. But then Dodge decided to use Martin Luther King to sell trucks. And the Boston Police Department decided to honor a white guy for Black History Month. (Seriously, you can’t make this up.)

Look at your organization. Look deeply, whether you’re selecting featured employee photos for your website or unveiling a new ad campaign. If everyone’s always immediately on board, then maybe you’re awesome. Or perhaps you don’t encourage real feedback or want dissent. Or, most likely, you’re doing your best but don’t have enough diversity of experience and opinion in the room to know something just might not be okay.

Photo by Sanjay Kumar (Flickr).

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